Timber sales and timber harvests have been carried out on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site for much of the site’s 70-year existence, to maintain and improve forest health and to provide raw material to the local wood products economy.
The traditional process of painting a cutting area boundary and sample-measuring the timber to be harvested using standardized methods still have a prominent place in current management activities. However, after two tornadoes touched down and skipped across a portion of the site, damaging nearly 500 acres of timber, use of traditional methods to prepare the damaged timber for sale was not only impractical but it was also extremely hazardous for sale preparation workers. Instead, foresters were able to rely upon some new innovative methods to accomplish the job.
When natural events such as a fire, tornado, hurricane or an ice storm move through an area damaging timber, traditional survey methods often cannot be justified. The value of the timber is often severely reduced because of damage and there is a need to get the timber sold as quickly as possible to minimize additional losses due to insects and decay. There are also issues of employee safety that must be considered.
“Having employees walking over, around and under jack-strawed and broken trees to estimate quantities or to paint boundaries is hazardous work. It puts workers at serious risk of injury,” said Savannah River Sales Forester Ed Clutter.
Starting in 2017, the U.S. Forest Service undertook a national effort to improve the efficiency of forest products delivery and create the flexibility needed to respond to natural timber damaging events. By using some of the new modernization methods, like establishing a GPS coordinate boundary around cutting units instead of physically painting a boundary, and using a comparative cruise of similar areas to estimate sale quantities, rather than take actual sample measurements across a hazardous landscape, the damaged areas were prepared for sale in a matter of weeks by two people. Not only were fewer people needed to prepare the sale, it was done more safely and more quickly than standard methods would have allowed. In addition, the reduced sale preparation costs were in line with the greatly reduced value of the damaged timber.
The sale was sold as a weight-scaled sale. While this is not a traditional sale method across our region for standing green timber, it is of common use for damaged timber. A weight-scaled sale sells timber by the ton. The estimated quantity merely sets the general amount of timber in the sale. The actual amount is determined when the buyer weighs the wood at the destination scales. Load removal receipts are attached to each truckload of wood before it leaves the forest. The load receipts are returned to the Forest Service along with a weight ticket issued at the destination scales and the buyer is billed for the wood removed at his bid rate.
Tornado damage is some of the worst damage that wood can sustain. The tree stems are twisted, cracked, broken and strewn about with no order. For the most part, the only value for wood in this condition is as chips. The Savannah River Site is fortunate in this regard. The site replaced its coal power and steam generating plant with a much cleaner burning biomass plant about 10 years ago. The buyer of this sale plans to chip the wood and haul most of the chips to the biomass plant as fuel.
“This sale has turned out to be a win-win for everybody,” Clutter said. “The Forest Service is able to get the damaged timber removed at no cost so restoration activities can be carried out, the biomass plant gets a local source of fuel and the U.S. Department of Energy can claim carbon credits for using site-produced wood in the production of some of their on-site energy needs.”
To learn more about how the Forest Service is increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration and to read more success stories, visit www.fs.usda.gov. To learn more about U.S. Forest Service Savannah River, visit www.fs.usda.gov/savannahriver.